Leonard Fournette is not Jerome Bettis.
At least not yet.
But if the Steelers pull of a trade for Fournette — like some are speculating they could or should. The comparisons between that and the trade with the St. Louis Rams that brought them Jerome Bettis would be immediate.
It was fourteen years and one day ago (April 20, 1996) that the Steelers acquired Jerome Bettis and a third-round pick for the team’s second-round pick in that year’s draft and a fourth-round selection in 1997.
Bettis had exploded into the league with 1429 yards on the ground in his first year. However the Rams weren’t a great team at the time and Bettis struggled in years two and three. After the Rams drafted Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips in the first-round, the team turned around and dealt Bettis to the Steelers.
Fournette like Bettis was at the time, is going into his fourth year in the NFL. Both were top 10 selections in the NFL Draft. Unlike Bettis, Fournette is coming off his best season as a pro by far. Even while stuck on the offensively inept Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, Fournette had 1152 yards rushing on a career best 4.3 yards per carry and added 76 receptions for 522 yards. His 1674 yards from scrimmage placed him 6th in the league. By comparison, Jerome Bettis was coming off a season in which he had only 743 all-purpose yards.
While the Bettis swap is now regarded as one of the worst in NFL history, at the time, the Rams looked like they were doing the smart thing, getting rid of a underachieving back on the cusp of free agency. Unfortunately for them, Phillips was a bust, and the back they traded away ended up with 1431 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year with the new team.
It’s a decidedly different era in NFL history. Running backs have very little value and even shorter careers. But if a player of Fournette’s caliber can be had for a mid-round draft pick, would the Steelers be interested in another trade for a running back?
No matter what, it probably wouldn’t work out as well as the one that brought Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis to the Steelers in 1996.